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The Guardian Presents the Flapper

April 30th, 2013 No Comments

Yesterday The Guardian published an article surrounding one of the most photogenic of all ages: The Roaring Twenties.  Furthermore, this article is expressly about the most photogenic of subjects of an already photogenic age: The Flapper.

In When Flappers Ruled the Earth Judith Mackrell focusses on the Flapperette Revolution as contributing to what eventually became the Women’s Lib movement.  This blog does not concern itself with deep political and sociological issues but with photography and, fortunately, The Guardian has published a mini-gallery to go with its feature article.

(The title of The Guardian’s article is reminiscent of John Danforth’s stop-motion marvel When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth; a film whose miniature-based stop-motion special effects shows up and trumps the computer-generated animation studios are churning out these days, if anyone’s been noticing.  Willis O’Brien, anyone?)

The aptly-named mini-gallery Josephine Baker and the Wild Women of 1920s Dance is not a collection of delightful photographs but a collection of photographs of delightful subjects.  Take the gallery’s photo of the Toast of 1920s Paris, Josephine Baker.  Even today it comes across as sensual and seductive though not remotely lewd.  One can only wonder at the sensation photos like it must have caused in those days, especially in then-prudish swathes of Baker’s home country of America. 

Baker’s costumes and photographic props encouraged a view of black women as, what were then called, ‘Jungle Fantasies’ (indeed, there’s a Duke Ellington composition titled Jungle Fantasy from that same age).  The Guardian’s caption for this photo says “Gaga Who?” probably recognizing the fact that Lady Gaga has drawn at least some of her inspiration from Josephine Baker and the 1920s’ relatively uninhibited flappers.

Baker was, of course, a dancer and performer and not a ‘Society Flapper’, the epitome of which was probably Zelda Fitzgerald, wife of novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald who wrote the defining novel of the 1920s, The Great Gatsby.  Unlike their image of another famous flapper of that era of “wild women,” the Guardian’s photograph of Fitzgerald is an all-too tame portraitHere’s a photograph that better reflects the energy and interests of Mrs. Fitzgerald as well as projecting the flapper ethos of her time.

This mini-gallery is only an appetizer; a search for ‘1920s flapper’ yields countless wonderful images.  With subjects, costumes, and poses like these, the photographers sure had it easy!

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